Roundup: A Poster Child for Dysfuntion

Failure to pass farm bill is one legacy of the “do-nothingest Congress” • Sustainable Communities grants go to Appalachian communities • Iowa farmland price increase slows • National Rural Health Association is headed to Vegas in 2014.




Another Take on the Farm Bill Fail. The farm bill used to be “a kind of model for how Congress, through compromises and trade-offs, can find majorities for legislation that primarily benefits minorities or narrower interests.”

Today the repeated failure of Congress to pass a farm bill makes the law “the poster child for the state of dysfunction in Congress and American politics,” writes Norm Ornstein in National Journal.

Ornstein uses the friendship of Republican Sen. Bob Dole and Democrat Sen. George McGovern as a case in point. Though politically divided, they found common ground on food issues. Dole saw something for Kansas farmers to like in the food-stamp program, which helped deal with food surpluses. And McGovern saw backing farm commodity price supports  as a way to pay for a program that helped alleviate hunger.

Today, that fragile alliance has broken down in the House of Representatives, Ornstein writes:

Despite facing the greatest drought since the Great Depression and broad and deep support for a bill in the Senate, the House managed to reach new depths of dysfunctional embarrassment when Majority Leader Eric Cantor singlehandedly blew up a delicate compromise forged by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and ranking member Collin Peterson.

And this week we learned that the conference committee that was trying to patch an agreement back together won’t have a bill ready before next year.

But even if the conferees find the elusive compromise, it may well fail in the House—losing Democrats because it will cut food stamps too much and Republicans because anything short of the $40 billion cut will not be enough. The compromise may also lose the support of some rural lawmakers who believe that their commodities have been shafted compared with others.

It’s a grim assessment of the “do-nothingest Congress in our lifetime.”

Appalachian Cities Win Grant Awards. Four Appalachian communities have received $250,000 grants through the federal Livable Communities program, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced.

The communities are Corbin, Kentucky; Anniston, Alabama; Pikeville, Tennessee; and Aberdeen, Mississippi. They were selected by EPA, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

An announcement from the EPA describes the projects in each community:

• Corbin, Kentucky will expand its seasonal outdoor market in downtown into a year-round local food network hub.

• Anniston, Alabama will develop a system of community and neighborhood gardens tied to neighborhood and downtown revitalization efforts.

• Pikeville, Tennessee will build a farmers’ market on vacant land in the heart of downtown and establish a community kitchen to help feed the needy.

• Aberdeen, Mississippi will establish a farmers’ market and neighborhood nutrition education center in a revitalized and refurbished former railroad building.

Support from [federal] agencies will help these communities promote economic development, preserve rural lands, and increase access to locally grown food. The 2013 Livable Communities program focuses on developing local food systems as a means of revitalizing traditional downtowns and promoting economic diversification.

Interestingly, we note that none of the communities selected for the grant program is located in the coal-dependent region of Appalachia, which have been especially hard hit by economic changes in the last decade.

Oil and Gas Waste Blamed for Oklahoma Quakes. Oklahoma has gone from having an average of 50 earthquakes a year to having thousands of tremblors in the past three years. Scientists say the cause may be waste and water from oil and gas drilling that is injected under pressure into thousands of waste wells across the state.

The resutling pressure affects geological formations and can lead to earthquakes, some scientists say. The oil and gas industry disputes the claims. The New York Times has the story.

“We have to look at what data and scientific evidence supports some connection,” before deciding on steps to manage the risk, said Dana L. Murphy, a commissioner with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Theoretically, at least, the commission could order some wells to be shut.

Already the commission has reached an agreement with a disposal well operator in Love County, about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, to reduce the amount of wastewater injected into his well. The facility had been operating for only two weeks, injecting up to 400,000 gallons of water a day from nearby fracking operations, when earthquakes started occurring in September, including one that toppled a chimney and caused other damage.

Oklahoma City resident Mary Catherine Sexton said she’s not against the oil and gas industry, but if the wells are causing problems, they need to be shut down. “It would hurt oil and gas,” she said. “But it’s oil and gas hurting homeowners and making people fearful,” she said.

Farmland Price Increase Eases. The rate of increase in the price of Iowa farmland slowed a bit in the last year.  The average price of an acre of farmland rose 5.1% from 2012, a new survey shows, the lowest increase in a decade. (Land prices did fall by 2% in 2009, though.)

The Iowa State University survey shows that farmers are more pessimistic about the future. Three quarters say they are concerned about future income.

“Iowa corn and soybean growers could see a $1.4 billion trim in income this year, given lower corn and soybean prices and difficult growing conditions,” the Des Moines Register reports.

Rural Health Conference to Hear Former Surgeon General. The National Rural Health Association is heading to Vegas.

The NRHA will hold its annual rural health conference in Las Vegas April 22-25. The headline speaker will be former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, who served in that office 1998-2002. He is currently director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine.